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  • Marc Primo Warren


This is an article “Top 5 Silent Films That Made an Impact in History” by Marc Primo Warren

Some may argue but some of the greatest movies ever made came from the pre-sound era. Such arresting masterpieces as Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights to captivating Westerns as Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious, silent films have undoubtedly created a historical impact to all of us even to this day.

One of the first films ever made for audience appreciation was the 50-second clip Arrival Of A Train in 1895 which emerged from a circus tent and terrified viewers with a moving image of an oncoming train. Twenty years later, the era of silent film took over with great and rapid innovation. Then, in 2011, modern audiences were re-introduced to the magic of silent films through French director Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist.

To understand how films have evolved throughout the centuries, a little retrospect on the most impactful silent films ever made can give us a glimpse of how important this form of communication really is for practically all of us.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

France, 1928

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Based on the life of the eponymous character, this retelling of how a young Joan of Arc helped the French win over the English army utilized the magic of close-up shots to paint a more intimate portrait of the heroine from her capture to her trial and execution, which made it a landmark film in the history of cinema.

Led by French stage and film actress Renée Jeanne Falconett, The Passion of Joan of Arc gave audiences a taste of unconventional cinematography courtesy of Dreyer who shot Joan in soft light and her antagonizers in high contrast lighting, with every member of the cast wearing no makeup to highlight more realistic facial expressions.

Pandora’s Box

Germany, 1929

Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst

One of the most notable films that came out of the Weimar Period was the story of a young woman named Lulu who with her sexual proclivities and foolish ways that brought ruin to herself gave German audiences an opportunity to study experimental lifestyles.

While the film didn’t exactly garner general praise during its first release, many have eventually regarded it as one of the most important silent films in German history, thanks to the impeccable performances of Louise Brooks.


Germany, 1927

Director: Fritz Lang

Another German silent film that captivated the whole world during its release is the Fritz Lang expressionist science fiction Metropolis for its ambitious vision of pushing the envelope in cinematic visuals.

Lang utilized spectacular and rather complex set designs to address the current social issues hounding Germany during the time, yet in a futuristic dystopia where its protagonists Freder and Maria (played to perfection by Gustav Fröhlich and Brigitte Helm respectively), try to reconcile the long-lasting separation of classes brought about by the ways of its city master (Alfred Abel). What resulted is one of the most engaging silent films ever created that truly made an impact in German society during the Weimar Period.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog

U.K., 1927

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Few probably knew that famed macabre director Alfred Hitchcock made a silent film early in his career. The Lodger, which anchors on the director’s take on the hunt for a Jack the Ripper-type serial killer gave his fans a glimpse of what was to be his signature formula for his future films. From the innocent suspect to the oblivious heroine, to the Hitchcockian visual and technical experimentation, this silent film certainly counts as one of the most important pieces of cinema magic which many modern film students should still review to this day.

City Lights

U.S.A., 1931

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Prior to the film’s release, what was then called the ‘talkies’ or the integration of sound in films was already making its headway into mainstream cinema. However, Chaplin chose his pursuit instincts and stuck with the silent film treatment for his 1931 release City Lights which proved to be a win for the well-accomplished star and filmmaker.

What has become one of the most impactful and first commercial glimpses of the rom-com genre, City Lights was keen on putting background scores to its scenes to emphasize its emotional values and complement the excellent cinematography brought to the screen by Chaplin regular Roland Totheroh. Eventually, the film was noted as one of the best ever made citing its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.

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